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April 2, 2014/For Immediate Release

Media Contact: Lauren Whitaker, 336-734-2891, whitakerl@uncsa.edu



 RiverRun panel to discuss merits and pitfalls of 35mm film, VHS and digital media

UNCSA’s senior curator for film archives to lead panel of experts

WINSTON-SALEM – Most of the films that will screen at RiverRun International Film Festival (beginning Friday and running through April 13) aren’t really films. They are movies produced and distributed digitally. Most viewers won’t know the difference. But for David Spencer and his peers, the difference is clear, and it’s terrifying.

“I’ve gone into a field that’s going the way of the dinosaur,” says Spencer, the senior curator for the Moving Image Archives in the School of Filmmaking at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA). UNCSA houses one of the 10 largest non-commercial film archives in the country.

Spencer is curating RiverRun’s “Spotlight” focus on restoration and preservation of historical film media.  He will moderate a panel discussion with his peers from the largest film archive organizations in the United States and Great Britain.  Representatives from the Library of Congress, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, UCLA Film & Television Archive, the George Eastman House, the British Film Institute, and Anthology Film Archives will explore the potential advantages and pitfalls of the digital revolution. The discussion is at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 5, in Main Theatre of UNCSA’s ACE Exhibition Complex, 1533 S. Main Street in Winston-Salem. It is free and open to the public.


UNCSA’s Moving Image Archives

“This is a very prestigious panel from some of the largest film archives in the world,” said UNCSA Dean of Filmmaking Susan Ruskin. “I am thrilled to host these experts on our campus, and I am proud that our senior curator will moderate the panel discussion.”

The UNCSA Moving Image Archives includes a collection of 16,500 original feature film prints on 70mm, 35mm and 16mm, and 9,300 videocassette, laserdisc and DVD titles. The School of Filmmaking pulls from its collection for weekly screenings that are a required part of the curriculum for cinema studies.

“Students are thrilled when they get to see something on 35mm film,” Spencer said. “It’s just a different experience. The brain processes visual images differently. You can get into a different state of engagement with the film.” And unlike digital movies which can be viewed alone on a smart phone or laptop, 35mm format movies require a projector, which requires a movie theatre. “So it’s a communal experience, and it can be much more engaging,” he added.

Local audiences will have several chances to engage with rare 35mm films. As part of RiverRun’s spotlight on restoration and preservation, Spencer has curated a collection of films from organizations represented on the panel.

UNCSA has contributed a legendary “lost film” that Spencer discovered in a collection the Film School acquired from the National Film Service. SANTA FE SATAN (aka CATCH MY SOUL), produced in 1974, stars singer/songwriter Richie Haven in a rock-opera version of Shakespeare’s Othello. It will screen at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 12, in UNCSA’s Gold Theatre.

“We are excited to offer our audiences these very rare screening opportunities to enjoy the richness of 35mm film and to learn more of the care and keeping of our cinematic heritage,” said RiverRun Executive Director Andrew Rodgers.

Spencer has worked at UNCSA since 1998, having previously studied in the School of Filmmaking. He has a degree in broadcasting and film from UNC-Greensboro and a Film Preservation Certification from the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the George Eastman House Museum of Photography and Film. In addition to running the Moving Image Archives, he teaches cinema studies courses at UNCSA.

Historically, moving images have been presented in a variety of formats, Spencer explained, including film and magnetic video. But since the 1990s, technology has changed the way motion pictures are produced and exhibited. Physical film projection has given way to digital production and distribution, a development that has generated much discussion among filmmakers and cinema buffs – not to mention archivists like Spencer.

Digital production and exhibition is the latest development in the evolution of film, he said. “First it was the incorporation of sound, then color, then the transition to video,” he explained. And while film stock is a structurally permanent medium for movies, the projection equipment must be available. “There are a handful of art houses that are committed to showing 35mm films,” he said. UNCSA has expanded its program of loaning archival films to such houses.

While motion picture film stock might “go the way of the dinosaur,” archivists like Spencer and his peers on the discussion panel are not in danger of extinction. There is plenty of work to be done converting resources to digital formats, as well as restoring and preserving the artistry and historical significance of cinematic works on film.

Brought to Winston-Salem by UNCSA in 1998, RiverRun International Film Festival is a non-profit cultural organization dedicated to the role of cinema as a conduit of powerful ideas and diverse viewpoints. Held annually in the spring, RiverRun screens a wide variety of feature-length and short films for all genres, and is comparable in size and scope to well-regarded film festivals in Nashville, Atlanta and Boston. UNCSA is one of its sponsors.

Information about RiverRun screenings and events is available at http://2014.riverrunfilm.com/.


As America’s first state-supported arts school, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is a unique stand-alone public university of arts conservatories. With a high school component, UNCSA is a degree-granting institution that trains young people of talent in music, dance, drama, filmmaking, and design and production. Established by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, the School of the Arts opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. For more information, visit www.uncsa.edu.